Make the Most of Your Membership
Activate your co-op membership through education, connection and, of course, great food.
By Sara Glesne
When becoming a co-op member/owner, most people will focus on the groceries and givebacks (coupons and annual patronage funds). But the co-ops offer a host of benefits that extend far beyond the checkout aisle.
Cooperatives, particularly in Minnesota, have a long history of community building. The stores introduce shoppers to knowledgeable staff members, small farmers, and socially conscious companies, as well as to information, educational opportunities, and social events.
Eastside Food Co-op in Northeast Minneapolis is a prime example of a co-op that serves as both neighborhood grocer and community partner. “We try to be as welcoming to and conscientious of the surrounding community as possible,” says Marketing Manager Luna McIntyre. “And we strive to ensure that the store never loses its small-co-op feel.” Like many co-ops, Eastside provides a bulletin board for community postings and a classroom for meetings and events. It hosts monthly NorthEast Investment Cooperative meetings and, recently, a member’s book release and signing party.
All co-op members may run for positions on their co-op’s board of directors. Board members help determine how money will be spent and weigh in on what types of products should fill co-op shelves. It’s a manageable commitment and an easy way to affect small change. All members are welcome to inform their co-op if they’ve discovered a local, sustainable and/or ingenious product that they’d like to see stocked on co-op shelves.
Consumer advocacy is a focus for all Twin Cities co-ops. Northfield’s Just Food Co-op has a specific policy, set to satisfy founding members’ concerns, that prevents the stocking of products with problematic ingredients. “Our members know, when they walk through our door, that they won’t find certain ingredients in our products,” says Marketing Manager Stephanie Aman. These ingredients include: artificial colors and flavors, high- fructose corn syrup, chemical sweeteners, trans-fats, and hydrogenated oils.
This trusted food is also donated to the community. Since 2012, Just Food members and employees have volunteered time and supplied food for Thursday’s Table, a program sponsored by Northfield’s Community Action Center that provides meals for people in need.
Education is a founding cooperative principle, which the co-ops uphold by providing a plethora of educational activities each month. They also educate at community events. For example, employees of Stillwater’s River Market attend Summer Tuesdays, a grassroots community night held each week in July and August. Marketing Manager Andre Bessette reports that the co-op once brought 200 pounds of sliced watermelon to a Summer Tuesday event and, each week, shares its mission to provide quality food to the Stillwater area.
St. Paul’s Mississippi Market also promotes education. It offers member discounts on co-op classes and partners with the St. Paul Public Schools to help ensure that students receive a healthful breakfast. Mississippi Market bakers are currently revising the district’s recipe for a “healthful breakfast cookie,” which contains local flaxseed and carrots.
All-co-op events include annual Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) fairs and the Eat Local Farm Tour, as well as the March Minnesota FoodShare event. From community listings to volunteer activities to classes and connection, your co-op membership opens a world of opportunities. Stop by your local co-op to find out more and get involved.
Sara Glesne is a student and writer living in the Twin Cities. She has worked at a Minneapolis grocery co-op for the past three years, which has, in part, inspired her enthusiasm for food and agricultural education.
Location: Valley Natural Foods
Date: December 19, 2013
Time: all day
Juicing -- A tasting/cooking demo with Sheryl
Location: Valley Natural Foods
Date: January 4, 2014
Raw Food Demo
Location: Valley Natural Foods Demo Kiosk
Date: January 9, 2014